Cycling is a beautiful sport where your mistakes are an actually useful learning process. And the best part is it doesn’t cause you much harm either. After all, let’s face it, starting with choosing a cycle, setting it up, figuring out training plans and routes or buying cycling gear, chances are that you have made some mistakes every step of the way.
No matter what hack you employ, get the best cycle and gear money can buy or who you train with, there are a few essential things that you can’t skip if you want to become an endurance cyclist. In case you have been toying with the idea of taking up cycling, whether for the sake of cycling or because you want to do a triathlon (everyone is doing it, why not?), here are some milestones you would pass through along your journey to becoming an endurance cyclist.
You know not what you are doing
Pranjal Neog, 50, bought his first cycle back in 2013. It was a 15-minute affair. “I walked in, pointed to the bike I liked and paid. It was as simple as that. I had no clue what I was doing or buying. I had done zero research,” says the Kolkata-based head of human resources at Goodricke with a laugh.
In Bengaluru, 41-year-old Deepti Bharadwaj had been gifted a hybrid cycle as a birthday gift. As she was already a long distance runner, she instinctively leaned towards long distance cycling. So she turned to the internet to find out more. “Even a simple Google search turned out to be an information overload. There are just too many people saying too many different things out there. I was confused. I didn’t know what was correct, what wasn’t… I didn’t know the source or credibility. So, I just signed up for an Olympic distance triathlon and went for it. I was the slowest on the cycle in that race,” she recalls. After that she quickly found a local coach and set herself measurable goals and laid out a proper training plan that she follows.
As for Neog, he went about cycling by feel and his short rides around the block soon became 20-25km rides around the neighbourhood. “One fine day in 2014 a few friends and I decided to go for a long ride. We cycled 40km and then turned around, completing a 80km ride. It was a big thing but also a huge mistake. We had just one sipper worth of water each. The route we had picked had no stores or vendors where we could have picked up more hydration. And after 25-30km, the body craves a chai or some energy-inducing drink,” says Neog, who nowadays plans his rides in advance along with his training partner.
You will need proper gear
If you are going to go for a spin around the neighbourhood or ride on errands, don’t bother with proper cycling gear such as padded shorts, cycling jersey or anything else. All you need is a helmet and a bicycle, says Bharadwaj. However, if you like cycling and are going to head out for long rides, it is best to buy yourself a pair of padded shorts, cycling jersey, sipper, tail light and a saddle bag to carry spare tube and puncture repair kit and a mini pump, says Bengaluru-based cycling coach MS Sriram.
First-time cyclists more often than not buy a gel-filled seat cover to put on top of their seats. This is fine for short distances but head out for a long ride and you would find out how badly a seat that slides from one side to the other with every pedal chafes rather sensitive areas of your thighs and butt. Cycling shorts have inbuilt padding to protect the butt while the lycra cuts down friction while pedaling. The cycling jersey, sipper and tail light all serve a purpose to keep you comfortable, hydrated and safe.
Another thing that you must do before you start cycling is to adjust the seat height as per your own height. “Place your heels on the pedal and see at what point your leg is completely straight when the pedal is at its lowest point. That’s the ideal seat height because while cycling you place the ball of the foot on the pedals and that would give you a 25-30 degree bend on the knee, which is the correct form,” adds Sriram.
Your butt will hurt and punctures will happen
Neog recalls that when he returned from his 80km ride in 2014, he didn’t touch his cycle for over a week. “Let’s just say I couldn’t sit on the cycle and that’s why I stayed away from it. The lesson was learnt though and now I do have proper cycling shorts,” says Neog.
Bharadwaj says it is possible to ward off chafing with appropriate shorts and plenty of cream. “But if you go on long rides, despite your padded shorts and best saddle (seat) possible, the butt will hurt a bit after the ride,” she adds. It just isn’t possible to avoid saddle soreness if you are going to spend hours on that tiny seat, says Sriram, adding that experienced cyclists just get used to it and the butt hurts a lot less with practice.
Punctures are a fact of life for all cyclists, especially given the condition of our roads. As a result, it’s important to learn how to use a puncture repair kit and a mini pump. Bharadwaj learnt it the hard way. “I went out before dawn and after riding for 30km, one tyre fizzled out. I had been asked to learn how to fix punctures but didn’t bother. It was the kindness of a passerby that I made it back home that day in time to report to work,” she says.
You will upgrade
Very rarely do people start out with a carbon road or mountain bike. The biggest deterrent is the price of a carbon bike. All carbon bikes from reputed brands cost upwards of ₹1,00,000, while mid-range ones cost as much as a small car. The ones we see in Tour de France or at the Olympics would be worth about ₹10 lakh and higher. So, when someone isn’t sure if cycling is for them, it doesn’t make sense to spend that much money.
However, if you get hooked, you will surely upgrade. Many upgrade from a mountain bike to a hybrid. Those who plan to do long rides, brevets and triathlons go on to acquire road bikes. Bharadwaj bought herself a road bike earlier this year because she enjoys cycling and finds that she can push herself more in this sport than she can in running. In Kolkata, Neog upgraded from his 2013 impulse buy to a better hybrid and finally bought a road bike with a carbon fork and alloy frame earlier this year. “It has changed everything. Distances seem to get magically shorter when I am on my roadie. It is exciting,” he says.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.